While searching around on Google looking for more information regarding another of our items for sale i came across something else i instantly recognised as one of those things in our collection that i had previously been unable to find any information on.
What i found on Google was a Samurai’s Meadate in the shape of a giant Japanese hornet which was virtually the same as the item i had but bigger. What i had was a brooch just a little bit bigger than the size of a real hornet roughly 3 inches long which you can see below:
It did make me wonder whether this was actually part of the same armour as the Meadate. I thought maybe it was what the call Menuki which are attached under the Tsuka-ito of Samurai sword grips. But the Menuki are different.
Reason being when we originally found the brooch (well actually it was my partner that found it) but when i got my hands on it i thought Hmmm, hat pin maybe or just a brooch but searching around on Google for insect brooches and hat pins nothing came up so it was put back on the shelf. I wondered about it often though, as there was something different about it i could not put my finger on. Why would you make #1 such a ugly looking brooch / hat pin, and #2 why so bloody sharp you could hurt yourself on its antennae which are really pointed, but more on this later.
So i knew i had something that was Japanese and possibly part of a Samurai’s armour after doing a bit more searching around i found some more iron insects virtually the same, however these were attributed to North Africa, Hmmm again, so i thought i would put it to some friends on Facebook and amazingly someone had 3, a mantis, a grasshopper and a hornet they too attributed them to North Africa, but none of them were brooches nor did they display the sharp antenna, so i wonder (as you do) was there ever an African Samurai, and the answer is yes he was called Yesuke and it’s a really good story, i’m not going to tell it as it has been presented very well in the video below, honestly it’s worth a watch:
What was interesting about the story was that it began with Portuguese merchants who in the 17th century traded frequently as intermediaries in silk between China and Japan which got me thinking, as according to Christie’s:
“When a period of peace led to a slow-down in business for makers of samurai armour in 17th-century Japan, some turned their skills to making articulated sculptures.. “Christie's
The Japanese called them Okimono Bugs which are considered good luck, each bug is attributed to it’s own special powers.
So now i’m wondering whether these insects were keepsakes or small gifts given to the Portuguese sailors by the Japanese and seeing as North Africa and Portugal are are almost neighbouring countries that some of these insects ended up there.
Granted this Hornet brooch i have is not articulated, it has no movable parts. It is a brooch as it has a pin but what makes it unusual is that the antenna are sharp unlike any of the others which have had their antenna flattened at the end, and we know that these iron insects were crafted by the makers of Samurai armour.
So i wondered was it part of the armour that belonged to the owner of the Meadate? For instance was it part of Kakushi Buki-jutsu (art of hidden weapons) as it could be pinned to the armour and in close combat used to stab with, ok it might not be fatal but used properly it could deliver a painful distraction like a sting from a real Suzumebachi (Japanese for giant sparrow hornet). It may even have been worn by a woman Samurai part of the Onna-Bugeisha. Maybe all the other insects were created with Kakushi Buki-jutsu in mind. Tricky bunch them Samurai.
It is and will probably be a bit of a mystery however this antique iron hornet brooch is circa 17th to 18th century Japan and for sale.